Lyric Unlimited Announces Virtual Learning Programming for 2020

After recent announcements about Lyric’s upcoming programming for 2020, amidst ongoing public-health regulations, the Lyric Unlimited – Learning & Creative Engagement wing of Lyric Opera of Chicago has also announced its plan to continue in-school and out-of-school virtual education programs for the 2020-21 school year, as well as engaging virtual community programs. These programs include Lyric’s Opera Residencies; EmpowerYouth!, in partnership with the Chicago Urban League; and public programs inspired by the Chicago premiere of Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

“Chicago is still processing the impacts of COVID-19 and grappling with civil unrest,” says Todd Snead, interim director of Lyric Unlimited – Learning & Creative Engagement. “In order to adapt our existing programs to the current challenges our city faces, we have tailored our programs to meet the needs of our community partners. Specifically, that means offering flexible programming that can be delivered virtually; providing opportunities for young people to engage with one another in a low-risk, yet supportive, environment; and providing a platform to highlight the stories of Black and Latinx communities.”

Lyric’s Opera Residencies program will continue virtually in 17 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) this academic year, serving 41 classrooms across the city. As a CPS Tier 1 Remote Learning Partner, Lyric has been approved to interact with CPS students for virtual synchronous learning, and will be able to partner teaching artists with classroom teachers to create custom learning experiences that support music, arts, and academic learning goals. Opera Residencies will be scheduled with pre-existing elementary and high school partners from the 2019-20 school year. Elementary schools will engage with Lyric teaching artists through virtual classroom sessions focused on multi-disciplinary arts learning and storytelling through music; while the high school programs will utilize teaching artists to support virtual instruction in the choral classroom. At the core of this program is Lyric’s commitment to support music teachers’ efforts and bolster student success in the arts, in alignment with the CPS Arts Education Plan.

After completing the 2019-20 program online with a successful virtual final Zoom showcase, EmpowerYouth!, Lyric’s ongoing partnership with the Chicago Urban League, launched its fourth year virtually, October 14. EmpowerYouth! immerses Black high school students in the collaborative process of creating an original production, while also working with professional artists to enhance skills in acting, composition, vocal training, dance, and writing. This season’s participants will consist of members of the 2019-20 ensemble. Similar to previous years, the students will tell the story of their lives and how they deal with issues that are pertinent to them, in a final performance that they have created with the guidance of professional artistic staff. Kristiana Rae Colon is returning as EmpowerYouth!’s librettist and Lyric welcomes Shawn Wallace to the program as this year’s composer. Jacob Watson returns as program facilitator with Tanji Harper, Osiris Khepera and Emorja Roberson serving as artist mentors.

Inspired by the Chicago premiere of Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson’s, Blue, Lyric had developed a suite of public programs that were put on hold, along with other elements of Lyric’s 2020-21 Season. Many of these programs have now been adapted for the virtual space and will offer new opportunities to engage audiences across Chicago in conversations around contemporary issues relevant to the story of Blue. These public programs also reflect Lyric’s ongoing commitment to the Chicago premiere of this new opera.

One of these programs is Thoughts on Parenthood, an interactive arts project examining the unique experience of parenthood. With the help of activist and photographer Tonika Johnson, Lyric has connected with communities across Chicago over the past year, gathering personal stories of dozens of parents—their greatest wishes, biggest needs, and proudest moments. Later this season, audio stories with accompanying images of parents’ experiences will be available on Lyric’s website, offering fresh insights into what it means to be a parent in Chicago.

Roll Call: Policing in Chicago’s Black Community, Then and Now will be a virtual panel discussion delving into the evolving relationship between the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and Chicago’s Black community. In collaboration with WTTW/WFMT, this free event will feature Howard Saffold, retired CPD officer and founding member of the African American Police League, and Sergeant Jermaine Harris of the CPD’s Community Policing Division. The panel will be moderated by Chicago Tribune reporter and the Field Foundation’s Lolly Bowean, and will take place virtually on December 8. More details to come.

Rounding out Lyric’s public programs inspired by Blue will be a virtual archive collection from the African American Police League (AAPL, formerly known as the Afro American Patrolmen’s League), in collaboration with the Chicago History Museum. The AAPL was formed in response to growing concern over the treatment of African Americans by and within law enforcement in 1968. The League documented instances of police violence within the police force and within Chicago’s Black communities, and sought to educate police officers about the culture and customs of communities of color; teach community members about the criminal justice system; develop procedures for individuals to protest; and try to correct abuses of police authority. Lyric Unlimited – Learning & Creative Engagement will present elements from the now-public collection of AAPL records on Lyric’s website by early November, as a resource for audiences to learn about the relationship between police and Black communities in preparation for the Chicago premiere of Blue.

More information about upcoming Lyric Unlimited – Learning & Creative Engagement programs, as well as Lyric’s recently announced artistic projects and programs for the remainder of 2020, can be found at